Behind the Scenes of Charmed Wasn’t So Charming

In October of 1998, the first episode of Charmed hit TV screens around the world, becoming an instant hit. The show, which followed the adventures of a trio of “charmed” witch sisters battling demons and warlocks, ran for eight seasons in total through to 2006.

Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan / Holly Marie Combs / Rose McGowan / Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan.
Source: Getty Images

Despite being off the air for a long time, Charmed is still beloved by many fans to this day. Here’s the full story of how it got made, what the cast is doing these days, and some intriguing behind-the-scenes stories you haven’t heard before.

The Next Big Hit

Back in the late 90s, the WB was trying to launch a new drama series for the 98-99 season. Their most successful series of the time was 7th Heaven, a classic family drama produced by the production of the company of Spelling Television.

Alyssa Milano, Shannen Doherty, and Holly Marie Combs in a promotional shot for the series.
Source: YouTube

So, WB decided to contact Spelling Television and ask them to make their next big hit. The company brainstormed ideas and, seeing the sudden popularity of witch-based movies, like The Craft and Practical Magic, they decided to create a show about witches and witchcraft.

The Lady in Charge

Constance M. Burge was brought in to take charge of creating the series. She had a contract with Spelling Television at the time, having helped them make Savannah in 1996, and she was interested in making a show about witches but wanted to avoid the usual cliches.

A photo of Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs, and Shannen Doherty behind the scenes.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

She knew all about the typical witch-based images like black cats and flying broomsticks, but she wanted to do something different. So, she started doing some research, discovering the Wicca religion. With its concepts of spellcasting, solstice celebrations, and sacred objects. It seemed like the perfect fit.

Executives Weren’t Sold on the Idea

After researching Wicca, Burge decided that the show should be about three good witches who all lived together as roommates in Boston, Massachusetts, and she shared her pitch with the executives. However, the response wasn’t as positive as she might have hoped.

A still from an episode.
Source: YouTube

Executive producer E. Duke Vincent had little faith in the idea, doubting that anyone would want to show about three witches. He suggested that the show should focus more on “three sisters who happen to be witches, not three witches who happen to be sisters.”

Getting the Green Light

Vincent’s recommendation that the show focuses more on the sisters and the bonds between them, rather than being too oriented around witches and witchcraft, was taken on board. And this actually became a big part of the show’s success, as it helped to develop the characters and personalities of the main trio.

A promotional portrait for the show.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

With these changes made and the show’s setting moved to San Francisco, it was finally pitched to the president of entertainment at the WB, Susanne Daniels. She instantly liked the idea and gave it the green light. From there, production was allowed to begin, and it was time to start casting.

Shannen Doherty as Prue Halliwell

One of the first members of the cast was Shannen Doherty. She was cast in the role of Prue, the eldest of the three sisters. Doherty had already enjoyed success on shows like Little House on the Prairie and Beverly Hills, 90210.

A still of Shannen Doherty as Prue Halliwell.
Source: YouTube

She also had a dramatic private life, briefly being engaged to Dean Jay Factor, heir of Max Factor, before he filed a restraining order against her due to alleged violence. Also, in 1993, Doherty married Ashley Hamilton, son of actor George Hamilton. They filed for divorce less than a year later.

Shannen Doherty After Charmed

Doherty left Charmed in 2001 after Prue was killed off. She went on to star and guest star in a range of other TV shows, such as North Shore, 90210, BH90210, Riverdale, and more. She also appeared in various reality shows, including Shannen Says and Breaking Up with Shannen Doherty.

Doherty attends an event / Doherty takes a picture of herself.
Photo by Phillip Faraone, FilmMagic, Getty Images / YouTube

In her personal life, she got married again in 2002 to poker player Rick Salomon, but the marriage was annulled less than a year later. She got married once more in 2011 to photographer Kurt Iswarienko. In 2018, her house burned down, and in 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is now in stage four.

Holly Marie Combs as Piper Halliwell

The next cast member to join the Charmed family was Holly Marie Combs. She was cast as the middle sister, Piper, and she was actually best friends with Shannen Doherty at the time. She was also an accomplished TV star, having appeared in Picket Fences on CBD.

A still of Holly Marie Combs as Piper Halliwell.
Source: YouTube

She won a Young Artist Award for her time on Picket Fences and had also appeared in several films before joining Charmed. On the personal side of things, she was also just coming out of a divorce, having married Bryan Travis Smith in 1993 and filed for divorce in 1997.

Holly Marie Combs After Charmed

After Charmed, Holly Marie Combs went on to appear in a range of movies and shows. Her most notable success came with Pretty Little Liars; she was cast as Ella Montgomery, mother to one of the main characters, and appeared in many episodes of the show during its run.

Holly Marie Combs and Mike Ryan attend an event.
Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images

In her personal life, Combs actually got married in 2004 to David Donoho, who worked as the key-grip on Charmed. They had three boys together but filed for divorce in 2011. Combs has since remarried; in 2019, she announced her marriage to restaurateur Mike Ryan.

Lori Rom as The Original Phoebe Halliwell

Charmed fans may not be familiar with Lori Rom in the role of the youngest sister, Phoebe Halliwell. However, she was a part of the original cast of the show and appeared in the unaired pilot. She would later be replaced by Alyssa Milano, who made the part her own.

Lori Rom appears in a promotional still for the television series.
Source: YouTube

Born in August of 1975, Rom studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University. She was still an inexperienced actress at the time but had appeared in Dawson’s Creek and later went on to appear in shows like Jack & Jill, Party of Five, CSI, and House.

Alyssa Milano as Phoebe Halliwell

After Rom quit the show, the Charmed team needed a new Phoebe. They turned to Alyssa Milano, who was already an accomplished TV actress, having appeared in movies like Commando and The Canterville Ghost and TV shows such as Who’s the Boss?

A still of Alyssa Milano as Phoebe Halliwell.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

In her personal life, Milano dated actor Corey Haim for several years in the late 80s and tried to help Haim overcome his addiction. In 1993, she was engaged to Party of Five actors, Scott Wolf, but the pair called off their engagement a year later.

Alyssa Milano After Charmed

After Charmed, Milano appeared in recurring roles in shows such as My Name Is Earl, Romantically Challenged, Mistresses, and Insatiable. She has also done modeling work, appearing on the covers of magazines like Maxim, FHM, and Cosmopolitan. She has recently been seen in Grey’s Anatomy and The Now.

A portrait of Alyssa Milano.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

She married singer Cinjun Tate in 1999 but got divorced by the end of the year. She married again in 2008, this time to CAA agent David Bugliari. They have a son and daughter together. Milano is also known for her political activism, as well as her defense of animals and women.

Replacing Shannen Doherty

At the end of the third season of Charmed, the character of Prue was killed off, and Shannen Doherty left the show. This left a gaping hole in the show, and it was clear that Charmed couldn’t simply continue with Piper and Phoebe on their own; a new character needed to be introduced.

Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano, and Rose McGowan pose in a promotional shot.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

The show’s creators decided to introduce another “long lost half-sister” as a character, coming up with the role of Paige Matthews. And they had a few ideas about who they wanted for the part, including Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tiffani Thiessen. However, in the end, it was Rose McGowan who got the part.

Rose McGowan as Paige Matthews

Born in Florence, Italy, in 1973, McGowan made her film debut in Encino Man in 1992 and received recognition for her performance in the 1995 comedy, The Doom Generation. She also appeared in films like Scream and Going All the Way in the late 90s.

A still of Rose McGowan as Paige Matthews.
Source: YouTube

In her personal life, McGowan had a three-year relationship with goth rocker Marilyn Manson. The pair even got engaged, but McGowan called the relationship off in 2001 due to lifestyle differences between herself and Manson. She later began dating the film director, Robert Rodriguez.

Rose McGowan After Charmed

After Charmed, McGowan went on to make various guest appearances in shows like Nip/Tuck and Once Upon a Time. She also appeared in movies like Grindhouse, Machete, and Conan the Barbarian, and lent her voice to various video games, too.

Rose McGowan speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

She ended her relationship with Rodriguez and later became engaged to artist Davey Detail. The pair married in 2013 but divorced in 2016. In recent years, McGowan has been back in the headlines after being one of the major revelators of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal, revealing that she had been raped by Weinstein.

Shannen Doherty Was a Controversial Choice

Many people were surprised at the time that Shannen Doherty had been chosen as one of the lead cast members. She was known as a fine performer, but she was also known as a bit of a “bad girl” who caused a lot of conflict and trouble behind the scenes.

A still of Shannen Doherty in an episode of Charmed.
Source: YouTube

In fact, Doherty’s casting seemed particularly surprising, as she already had a troubled past with Charmed’s producer, Aaron Spelling. The pair had previously worked together on Beverly Hills, 90210, with Doherty being written out of the show after repeated on-set conflicts and drama.

Doherty Caused More Drama with One Co-Star

On-screen, there was a strong bond and plenty of chemistry between Shannen Doherty’s Prue and Alyssa Milano’s Phoebe. However, behind the scenes, the pair didn’t get on well at all, with Milano reporting that she felt alienated and ignored by Doherty.

A picture of Doherty and Milano behind the scenes.
Source: YouTube

Milano described the set as “high school,” with Doherty and Combs being best friends and Milano feeling like the odd one out. Allegedly, the tension got so bad between Milano and Doherty that the latter eventually asked to be written out of the show and move on to other projects.

Cole Wasn’t Supposed to Be Such a Big Character

Australian actor Julian McMahon arrived in season three of Charmed as Cole Turner, a half-human, half-demon who is originally introduced as a threat to The Charmed Ones but ends up falling in love with Phoebe.

A still of Julian McMahon as Cole.
Source: YouTube

Originally, Cole was only meant to appear in seven episodes, but fans loved him so much, and he fit the role so well that he ended up appearing in many episodes, all the way through to season seven. Brad Kern said that Cole was the perfect male character for the show; he was strong and interesting but didn’t take away from the show’s themes of female empowerment.

Billie Was Brought in to Light the Load

In season eight of Charmed, we saw the introduction of a brand new witch, Billie Jenkins. Billie was played by Kaley Cuoco, star of 8 Simple Rules, who would later go on to appear in a starring role in The Big Bang Theory.

Kaley Cuoco is in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Brad Kern explained that this character was introduced to “light the load” on the other women. He said that, after seven years of working on the show, the main cast was tired out. It was hoped that Billie could bring in some new life, and it’s possible that the producers had a spin-off in mind. In the end, Charmed ended after season eight.

The First of Its Kind

Certain shows and films had explored the topics of witches and witchcraft before, but Charmed was actually the very first show to air on primetime TV and focus on a coven of witches. It broke new boundaries in terms of what television shows could be about.

A still of Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano as the Halliwell sisters.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

Not only that, but the show was one of the earliest and most successful modern TV shows to only feature women in the leading roles. It was, in fact, the longest-running hour-long TV series to feature all-female leads until it was surpassed by Desperate Housewives in 2012.

The Book of Shadows Was a Work of Art

Fans of the show will remember the magical “Book of Shadows” that appears in many episodes. It’s basically the sisters’ spell book, giving them their powers and helping them battle the demonic forces they encounter so many times throughout the show.

A closeup on the Book of Shadows in a still from the series.
Source: YouTube

Well, you might think it was just a simple prop like any other, but a lot of time and effort went into that book. The crew hired three artists to fill in every page by hand, and one cast member, Alyssa Milano, loved their work so much that she commissioned one of them to paint parts of her own home.

Piper Really Was Pregnant

In season five of Charmed, fans were excited to see that Piper was pregnant. Well, this wasn’t a part of the original script, but Holly Marie Combs actually got pregnant before the season started filming, and Brad Kern decided to write her pregnancy into the show.

A still of the Halliwell sister after Piper gives birth.
Source: YouTube

Kern said that there were a lot of disagreements and “fierce concerns” about this, especially from the network. However, in the end, he convinced them all to go with his idea, and it paid off pretty well, as the Piper pregnancy storyline was an interesting one and gave season five some memorable moments.

McGowan and Milano Aren’t Friends

Rose McGowan is someone who gives honest answers and isn’t afraid of telling some harsh truths. So, in her memoir, Brave, she didn’t shy away from sharing some surprising information about her time on the set of Charmed and her interactions with her co-stars.

A dated picture of Milano and McGowan at the time of the show.
Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage for InStyle Magazine/Getty Images

She said, “I cannot tell you how many times I was asked if we the Charmed Ones hung out after work. The answer was no.” Later on, she specifically revealed a feud with Alyssa Milano, saying, “I don’t like her. Cause I think she’s a lie.” after Milano got involved in the #MeToo movement.

A Boys Club Behind the Scenes

Even though Charmed was a female-oriented show in terms of its cast and storylines, there weren’t too many women in positions of power behind the scenes. In fact, Rose McGowan said that only one female director was ever brought in during her time on the show.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Not only that, but McGowan said that the male cast and crew were quite rude and unfair towards that particular director. McGowan summed up her feelings with the phrase, “This was a show about three young women, and they had not in all the time I was there had a female director.”

The Stars Weren’t Happy with the Network

Given the success and lasting appeal of Charmed, you might assume that the stars of the show were adored by the network and treated like royalty. However, according to the ladies themselves, that wasn’t really the case, and many of them felt mistreated and unappreciated.

A still of McGowan in an episode from the television series.
Source: YouTube

In her autobiography, Brave, Rose McGowan said that her time on the show was “soul-crushing.” Holly Marie Combs, meanwhile, said, “The WB never treated us well.” Combs was also frustrated with the lack of promotion and respect the show received, compared to other shows of the time like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Show Had Its Own Demon Expert

There were plenty of people working hard behind the scenes to make Charmed the best show that it could possibly be, from the lighting teams to the costume department. And one member of the crew had a very special role: the demon expert or demonologist.

A portrait of Robert Masello, a demon expert.
Robert Masello. Source: Pinterest

Yes, the makers of Charmed actually brought in a genuine demon expert named Robert Masello to advise them on how demons might behave and provide input for some of the storylines seen throughout the show. Masello was chosen due to the fact that he had written several books on the subject.

Real Wiccans Had Mixed Views on the Show

The Wicca religion seen in Charmed is a real Pagan religion that has many followers around the world, and many of them were intrigued to see how their faith would be represented on the screen when they found out about the show. In the end, opinions among the Wiccan community were mixed.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Many Wiccan followers enjoyed the accurate portrayal of certain elements of their religion in the show, but others expressed disappointment due to the fact that the show got some major things wrong. For instance, it used the names of kind and benevolent gods and goddesses for some of its villains and demons.

Holly Marie Combs Responded to the Wiccans

In response to some of the criticism from the Wiccan community, Charmed cast member, Holly Marie Combs, had a few words to say. She acknowledged that the show had made some mistakes but stated that the story writers were mostly trying to create a fantasy show rather than adhering strictly to the Wiccan rules.

Holly Marie Combs speaks during a conference.
Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

Combs explained that the show didn’t want to stick too closely to the rules of one faith because it was its own entity, with its own stories to tell. Many people appreciated her comments and, in general, were happy with how the show brought positive attention to the Wiccan religion.

Burge Quit Her Role After a Disagreement

After the second season finished and plans were put in place for the third season of Charmed, the show’s creator, Constance M. Burge, was growing increasingly unhappy with the shifting focus of the episodes. This led to her leaving her executive producer position ahead of season three.

A still of Alyssa Milano in an episode from the series.
Source: YouTube

Burge had become frustrated with how the show was starting to focus more and more on the various love interests of the characters, rather than the relationship between the sisters themselves, which had always felt like the most important element of Charmed, in her opinion.

She Eventually Left the Show Entirely

Brad Kern replaced Burge as executive producer, and Burge took on a smaller role as a creative consultant. She remained in this role until the end of season four, at which point she left the show entirely.

Brad Kern and Holly Marie Combs pose for a picture.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Burge’s departure led to some big changes in the way Charmed was structured. Previously, the show had followed a classic “monster of the week” format, seen in the likes of The X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But with Burge’s departure, Charmed started to embrace longer stories, stretched out across numerous episodes.

Finding the Right Balance

The changing structure of the show came as a bit of a surprise to some fans, with many of them having grown used to the classic format. However, ratings did start to increase through season four as longer story arcs were introduced.

A promotional portrait of the show.
Source: YouTube

In spite of this, The WB asked Kern to abandon the idea for the next season. Season five of Charmed, therefore, saw a return to the classic episodic nature. Then, from season six onwards, the showrunners tried to find a balance between the episodic and longer-form structures.

Budget Cuts Affected the Final Season

For a long time, Charmed had been one of the biggest shows on TV and enjoyed a big budget to go along with it to help the creators make each season. However, by the time season eight was being prepared, the show was in a more difficult situation.

A still of Holly Marie Combs in an episode from the show.
Source: TV Line

The budget was cut dramatically as ratings had started to fall in the previous season. Brad Kern admitted that this had a big effect; special effects were used less often, guest stars were written out of the scripts, and the episodes were entirely shot in a studio, with no on-location filming allowed.

Characters Were Removed Due to the Budget Problems

The budget problems even had a direct impact on the cast for the final season, with two major and unexpected changes. Firstly, Dorian Gregory, who played Darryl Morris, had to be written out of the show in order to save money on his salary to re-invest in other areas of the show’s development.

A still of Dorian Gregory as Darryl Morris.
Source: Facebook

In addition, Brian Krause, who played Leo, also had to be written out of many episodes in order to help the showrunners save some extra cash. They originally planned to have Leo in most or even all episodes of the final season, but they could only afford to include him in the final two.

The Famous House

The house that we see so often in Charmed as the home of the sisters is actually located in Los Angeles, not far from Echo Park. It’s on Carroll Avenue in the Angelino Heights neighborhood, and the house in question is number 1329.

An exterior shot of the house.
Source: Pinterest

The street has actually been used in a lot of shows, films, and even music videos over the years. Number 1345 appeared in Michael Jackson’s Thriller, for example, while 1324 Carroll Ave was used in an Adam Sandler movie. A lot of Charmed fans have visited the street to snap photos in front of the house.

The Classic Theme Song

It’s always a good sign when TV shows have great opening theme songs, and Charmed surely had one of the best songs of them all. The show’s theme was “How Soon Is Now?” which is originally a song by the British band, The Smiths, that was covered by American rockers Love Spit Love for the show.

Stills from the theme song.
Source: YouTube

Interestingly, this version of the song already had a bit of a witchy past! It was used on the soundtrack of the 1996 American teen supernatural horror movie, The Craft, which followed a group of young women making use of witchcraft and spells.

The Girls’ Powers Are Inspired By Their Weaknesses

In an interview, Constance M. Burge revealed some of the thought processes that had gone into developing the three leading witches and deciding which powers they should have. She explained that the girls’ powers are actually inspired by weaknesses or flaws in their characters.

A still of Holly Marie Combs as Piper.
Source: YouTube

For example, Prue is a very smart character who tends to think everything through very deeply, leading to the mental-based power of telekinesis. Piper, meanwhile, is always worried about people-pleasing, so the freezing time seemed like a good fit. Finally, Phoebe, who is seen as a little immature, with no vision of the future, ends up with the power of premonition.

Combs Nearly Left the Show

After Shannen Doherty left the show at the end of season three, one of her co-stars was strongly considering following in her footsteps. Indeed, Holly Marie Combs (Piper) was seriously thinking about leaving and moving on to other projects, too.

A promotional portrait of Combs for the show.
Photo by Paramount Pictures/Online Usa, Inc./Getty Images

The producers knew that losing Doherty was a big deal, and losing another one of their leading ladies would kill the show. So, they sat down with Combs and renegotiated her contract, offering her a whopping $60,000 per episode. She agreed to stay on, and the rest is history.

The Reboot

In recent years, we’ve started to see reboots of many classic TV shows from the past, and Charmed has also been given the reboot treatment, with the new show airing its first episodes in 2018. And it had been a long time coming!

A picture of Sarah Jeffrey, Madeleine Mantock, and Melonie Diaz on stage presenting the reboot.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The idea of a Charmed reboot was being talked about as early as 2013, with Party of Five co-creator Christopher Keyser originally brought in to pen some ideas for the show for CBS. In the end, however, CBS decided not to go ahead with the idea, and it eventually fell into the hands of The CW instead.

Some Unusual Ideas

The CW had some rather unusual ideas for the Charmed reboot. Originally, they wanted to set it in the 1970s and run it as a prequel to the original show, featuring three witches who are not related but have to work together to battle evil in a New England town.

A still from the reboot.
Source: YouTube

Jessica O’Toole and Amy Rardin, who had worked as writers on Jane the Virgin, were in charge of the script. However, it didn’t turn out the way they hoped. In the end, The CW decided to switch things up to a modern-day setting and bring back the idea of the three primary witches all being sisters.

A More Diverse Version

The creators of the Charmed reboot hoped to make a more diverse version of the show so that fans of different backgrounds could see themselves represented on the screen. Therefore, they chose to include three women of color in the leading roles of Macy, Mel, and Maggie.

A promotional shot for the reboot.
Source: YouTube

One of the sisters, Mel, was also revealed to be a lesbian, adding some LGBT representation to the reboot. Many fans and followers of the show were happy about the news and excited to see a new version of a show they loved, while others expressed worry that the show might not live up to the hype.

A Mixed Response from the Original Cast

In the end, the show has received a mixed response from fans, critics, and even members of the original Charmed cast. Holly Marie Combs, for example, took to Twitter to criticize The CW for rebooting the show in the first place without asking for any input from the original team.

Combs speaks during a press conference.
Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

Other former cast members were more enthusiastic. Alyssa Milano said that she hoped the show would connect with viewers like the original. Shannen Doherty said that she was intrigued by the idea and later called it “awesome,” while Rose McGowan wished the new cast “nothing but the best.”

A Huge Impact on Pop Culture

Charmed has had a massive impact on pop culture, and we can see the show being referenced time and time again in films, shows, and other media. For example, the series is mentioned several times in the teen comedy, Popular and also appears in the 2002 teen comedy movie Big Fat Liar.

A still from the original series.
Source: YouTube

Even more recent shows such as American Horror Story and True Blood have used references to Charmed, and the show is referenced in the movie, Fighting with My Family. We can also see Charmed’s impact overseas, as the show is brought up several times in the Australian soap opera Neighbors.

Impact on the Academic World

It’s not only in the world of movies and TV that we can see references to Charmed and witness the ways in which the show has touched the world. Even in colleges and universities across the globe, the show has been studied and written about by scholars, academics, and essayists.

A still of Doherty, Combs, and Milano in an episode.
Source: YouTube

Various books have been written about the show, like Investigating Charmed: The Magic Power of TV, and one French academic named Alexis Prichard wrote and delivered a series of lectures all about the show at universities across the country.

The Extended Universe of Charmed

The universe of Charmed is a rich and interesting one, with so much backstory, so many demons, creatures and ideas. In fact, there were so many ideas going on, and fans were so passionate about the show that a huge series of books were also written to expand the universe and share extra stories.

A still of Combs in an episode from the show.
Source: YouTube

More than 40 novels were written and published in total, mostly set during the same period of time as the series and featuring many of the main characters. There were also several comic book series published after the show ended, and there was even a Charmed board game, in addition to a video game.

An Unforgettable Show

Lectures have been given about it, books have been written about it, countless pop culture references have been made to it, and fans have adored it for years on end. In short, Charmed has undoubtedly gone down in history as one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

A scene from the show’s first season.
Source: YouTube

It was one of the most exciting, groundbreaking shows of its time, introducing millions of fans to an incredible world of Wiccans and white lighters, giving us countless memorable moments over the course of eight seasons, and standing the test of time as a true classic that can never be forgotten.